Lady Commander bowlers threepeat

Jan. 24—SMYRNA — Two years ago, Friendship Christian girls bowling coach Jon Shoulders keyboarded numbers into his laptop and learned his Lady Commanders won the state championship.

Last Friday, it was boys coach Mark Strickland's turn to insert the numbers into his computer. When the tabulating was complete, he turned to his Columbia Academy counterpart Derek Ransom, extended his hand and said, "You win. Congratulations."

Strickland's computer added up the numbers and it came up a 12-11 Columbia Academy victory for the Division II boys state championship. The difference, it turned out, was 12 pins.

It also put a damper on the Friendship girls, who didn't need Shoulders to do any creative accounting to cook up a 21-2 win over Girls Preparatory School for their third straight championship.

The Lady Commanders' key win in the TSSAA Championships at Smyrna Bowling Center was earlier in the day when they avenged first loss since the 2020-21 season with a 19-4 victory over Boyd Buchanan in the semifinals.

Against Boyd Buchanan's Chattanooga-rival, GPS, the Lady Commanders built such a big lead Shoulders was able to insert substitutes in Games 3-5 of the Baker format as they put a bow on a 16-1 season.

"We had such a tough, hard-fought match this morning with Boyd Buchanan and the girls really stepped up and played well," Shoulders said after his Lady Commanders won their fifth championship in the last seven seasons, all of which ended in the finals. "It was sweet revenge. But it lifted our girls into the finals and we felt very confident going in and they did what they do. Our senior, Olivia VanHooser, led our team the entire tournament. It absolutely turned out to be a great day for us."

While the Lady Commanders were running out the clock and taking a knee on their end, Friendship's boys were fighting for their undefeated season in a World Series seventh-game scenario going extra innings.

The Commanders had an 11-pin count lead following the American 10-pin plus two bonus points. The teams split the first two Baker games as Friendship taking a 7-5 edge needing 12 of the 23 points up for grabs to take its fifth boys' championship, and first since 2019. The teams also split Games 3 and 4 before Friendship took Game 5 by three pins.

But Columbia Academy gained two bonus points on the overall pin count to win the state with an 11-2 record while the Commanders suffered their only loss of the season following 16 victories.

"Twelve pins," Shoulders said. "When we said every pin counts, it means every pin counts."

Unlike other sports with a running scoreboard keeping track of the score, in bowling only the game in progress is shown on the screen.

All the results have to be tallied up, which means the outcome of close matches often aren't immediately known. In fact, when John Brooks made a spare, the Commanders celebrated like they had won. But the Bulldogs had a round remaining. And then the tabulating began.

"We thought we had total pins, but it went the other way," Strickland said. "Even though we won that last game, they won total pins, so that gave them three points (including two bonus points). Very hard loss.

"It happened to our girls about five-six years ago by 11 pins. It was rough... When it comes down to one spare, it's a difference of hitting one spare or not in the entire six games... Unfortunately, these boys will (look at any missed spare) do that the rest of their days. They'll sit and think about that, the shot, the spare they didn't make, those kind of things. It's just a good experience being here. It's the first time our boys have ever lost when we've come to the finals. To lose this way is very difficult."

"We have one senior on this team, Cullen Graves (the last holdover as an eighth-grader from '19)," Shoulders said of the boys. "And I hate that he is having to walk away without this, but all the others will be back next year. I'm confident that we'll be right back here next year to revenge this loss."